Today, I am thrilled to be bringing you a guest post from Rita Arens, Author of "The Obvious Game," now available at Barnes and Noble, Amazon, and on Goodreads. She is writing about it getting better after an eating disorder. I hope you enjoy this post as much as I do!
It's better on the other side.
That's what I write them, the girls -- well, they've all been girls or women so far -- who write me because they've seen one of my blog posts about eating disorders out scattered around the Internet. I always include my email address, because my experience has been that the information available online is more clinical and less personal than is helpful for someone in the throes of ED.
I wrote THE OBVIOUS GAME because I wanted to present the twin experiences of being the anorexic and being the person who loves the anorexic. It's horrible for everyone involved, and it's also extremely difficult to see the other perspective when your life is shrouded in calorie counts. (There are other types of ED, but THE OBVIOUS GAME focuses on anorexia.) I wanted to present it in novel form so it could entertain and inform those who have never been in contact with ED but just wanted a good YA read. I wanted to include a love story, because being in love as a teen is so magically intense -- I'm not sure it's ever the same to be in love again as it is to be in love as a young adult.
But mostly I wanted to put in long form this message: It's better on the other side.
I understand ED. I was there, for more years than I think I can even admit to myself. Though I looked cured after two years, I wasn't -- my definition of "cured" is not only maintaining a healthy weight for at least a year but also not applying the rules to food anymore, not having food or the lack of food or when you're going to eat or what you shouldn't eat be the focus of your thoughts constantly. It's a horrible way to live, focusing on dieting all day, every day, and when my mother asks me what helped me to finally stop, I can't remember a moment in time, but I remember realizing it would either go on like this, day after day, as I graduated college and went into the world, maybe got married and had babies -- every day, thinking, thinking, hating, focusing -- or I would die, or I would recover. Those are the three choices: suffer, die, or recover.
I chose to recover. It wasn't easy, and it took years of therapy and inner monologues and navel-gazing and good talks with friends and learning what I valued in life and growing artistically and existentially and deep breathing and loads of books on how the brain works and seeing other people truly suffering and even dying of a disease that presents as anger, as vanity, as isolation, as stubborness. It's hard to keep trying with someone who seems to be killing herself on purpose, and it's hard to ask for help when you're terrified to your core of what accepting that help means. I decided to muscle through it as much on my own as possible. I didn't go into inpatient or outpatient treatment, though I've heard both good and bad about those experiences.
I turned my laser focus and willpower on itself. I used the same self-control I had been using to eat 600 calories a day to shut down the voices and keep down dinner, over and over. I figured out how to maintain my weight once it came back to within a ten-pound range, so I never had to feel like I would keep ballooning forever (my original fear when I started recovery). I've been within my ten-pound range since 1998 with the exception of my pregnancy in 2003. I started thinking of my physical self as constantly changing. My blood pressure fluctuated throughout the day, my heart rate, my breathing, and my weight fluctuated, too, throughout the day and throughout the month. People are not dolls. We're people. It's okay.
The primary message of recovery for me, was: "There is no can't, only won't." I told myself this as many times as I needed to, and I use that same line now when I'm tempted to restrict other things when I'm anxious. While the ED went away, the anxiety disorder didn't, and it manifests itself with money, with time, with anything I can think of, and when I'm tempted to control things too much, I tell myself I'm refusing to relax, not that I can't relax. I'm still using what I learned in ED recovery to navigate the rest of my life. If you're waiting for a time to recover when everything is easier and the stars are in line, you have to accept that that time doesn't exist. There is no time in the future when you'll be more ready. One day, you just decide, and you start getting better. If even one person decided after reading THE OBVIOUS GAME to start that process, my entire experience would be worth it.
Rita Arens is the author of The Obvious Game and the editor of the award-winning parenting anthology Sleep Is for the Weak. She writes the popular blog Surrender, Dorothy (www.surrenderdorothyblog.com) and lives in Kansas City with her husband and daughter. The Obvious Game is her first young adult novel. She is at work on a second.
Rita has been a featured speaker at BlogHer 2012, BEA Bloggers Conference 2012, BlogHer Writers 2011, BlogHer 2011, Blissdom 2011, Alt Summit 2010, BlogHer 2010, BlogHer 2008 and BlogHer 2009, the 2008 Kansas City Literary Festival and 2009 Chicks Who Click and appeared on the Walt Bodine Show in 2008.
She’s been quoted by Bloomberg Businessweek, The Associated Press, Forbes Woman, the Wall Street Journal, Businessweek and Businessweek Online and featured in Breathe magazine, Get Your Biz Savvy, The Kansas City Star (archived material available on request), Today Moms (Today Show blog) and Ink KC.